Cynical Girl

I think it’s time to write something relatively cheery, again. At least, it’s time to try. But can I do it? Can I come up with something that is not informed by negativism, can I actually just be happy about something for even a moment?

These may be destined to remain open questions, I suspect. Because there’s probably a little yes and a little no in posting a warmhearted celebration of…

CYNICAL GIRL

Our hero.

There may be something else in my 100s of comic books that will yet provide a better expression of my idea of sharing this art’s great-but-obscure. I am not going to guarantee this, however. Because: Cynical Girl.

Where even to begin. The capsule summary, though probably an entirely misguided concept here, is that Cynical Girl is a one-shot comic book from 2000 featuring the satirical misadventures of a crabby young woman and part-time costumed champion. Yeah, I didn’t think that would help.

Cynical Girl is just awesome, okay? I adore this comic book. I will admit that this is partly because it feels like it is mine to enjoy, without sequels  or remakes or fan communities or Hollywood adaptations to “ruin it.” I’ll come back to the few exceptions but at the moment I can’t find much of anything about this comic online. (I think I’ve got a touch of “Manic Indie Thrill” here.)

That said, plenty of comic books are obscure without being worth two bits. Not so Cynical Girl. This book, arguably, underpromises and overdelivers. With no fanfare, a $2.95 price tag, black and white art and creators of whom few people have ever heard, it’s nonetheless a refreshing cut above. Cynical Girl is accessible, witty, and best of all bursting with attitude.

If Cynical Girl has any “superpower,” it’s the power to push back against the daily garbage of modern life, rather than being worn down to polite, acceptable resignation. The first time we see Cynical Girl “go into action,” some jerk has been gradually sidling into a coffee stand line without waiting his turn; after boiling over with frustration at the rest of the line’s passive response, she dashes off to change into costume… and gets back after everyone in line has gotten their coffee and gone on with life.

Yeah. Cynical Girl has attitude but also ample self-awareness. It makes no pretense that its hero is not crazy—even if she has reason to be!—or that she’s doing anything besides trying to hold back the tide.

But, dammit, if we’re all fated to go down then Cynical Girl is at least going down swinging. Hell yeah.

It occurred to me today, I think for the first time, that Cynical Girl is almost a kind of companion piece to another, slightly less obscure favorite of mine, Daria. They share a lot of the same themes, style, snark, and character types. They practically share some of the same characters, in fact. It may be a bit of a stretch, but you can almost imagine Cynical Girl as a slightly older Jane Lane, post-college, minus Daria, and working at a bookstore… with Brittany.

Jacquie greets her coworkers

If Brittany were ever not in a cheerleading uniform, that’s what she would look like, let’s face it.

Something else that has occurred to me in relatively recent times is that, while it’s always subtle, through most of Daria there’s a sense that Jane kind of occupies her own fantasy world. She observes the same world as her pal Daria, and readily shares in similar acid critique thereof, but Jane seems to have a surreal inner life that Daria lacks. The obsessed fan may recall, e.g., the oddball fantasy play that Jane derives from a glue gun in the “Alternapalooza” episode. If adult life—alongside Brittany—finally pushed Jane’s relationship to this fantasy life past a tipping point, it’s not impossible to imagine that something like Cynical Girl might result.

Though maybe that’s just me. I presume there’s no direct connection, at all events. Cynical Girl does suggest a couple of inspirations, however, that seem like more than coincidence. Aside from the general milieu of costumed heroes that is obvious (and indispensable to make sense of the work) CG’s alter ego of “Geneva Waters” seems like it must be a nod to “Jennifer Walters,” i.e. the Sensational She-Hulk.

More interestingly, perhaps, Cynical Girl may have had a real-life inspiration. Around the same time as CG appeared, ABC News reported on another young woman who patrolled New York bars in costume, attempting to defend the Big Apple’s women from male harassment; so far as I can tell, Teriffica actually existed, too.

Cynical Girl telling creepos to get lost

So, scenes like this may be much more realistic than you’d imagine otherwise

That said, the report I happen to have about Teriffica dates from two years after Cynical Girl. So, there’s life here and there’s art here and there’s a good likelihood that one’s imitating the other, but don’t quote me on which.

Before I leave the subtopic of antecedents, analogues and inheritors, it may be worth mentioning Rebecca Cohen’s comic strip Gyno-Star. While acknowledging differences—including the fact that in Gyno-Star’s case her identity as a superhero is more than just a personal delusion—I think fans one might appreciate elements of the other.

Beyond this, I think there’s relatively little to tell. Cynical Girl is almost the definition of “one-off.” Besides the print artifact next to me, I find few traces of its existence. The artist, William Morton, drew a gag strip called Adventures of Skully at one time, but I can no longer find much trace of this oddly entertaining amusement or its creator online. I’m pretty certain that this Twitter account belongs to author and co-creator Jennifer Heddle (and congratulations to her on presumably living out a dream at Lucasfilm). The Xeric Foundation’s web site does at least confirm its award of a grant to Cynical Girl in 2000.

This is probably a good time to bail out… I’m about 45 seconds or so from getting nostalgic about the final, overtime moments of the 1990s and antebellum America. So… yeah. Cynical Girl. Brilliant.

Street harasser, your time is UP!

The first page of Cynical Girl is a fantasy sequence, though other than minor costume details and lifting up a grown man, this is pretty much what she’s like in the comic’s internal ‘reality’

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